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December 12, 2004 (Advent III)
Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg
Isaiah 35.1-10; Matthew 11.2-11
Grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
We have another vision announced from Isaiah this morning. Two weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent, we heard from Isaiah about God's city on a hill with a river of people streaming to it for teaching and mediation. The second of Advent we heard a vision of ultimate peace. A time when prey and predator lay down together, and a messiah who will rule with righteousness, and the poor and meek will be favored. Today we have from Isaiah a vision of the healing of people and of the earth. The prophet also announced a highway to God for God's people. God's people shall travel on it unimpeded and unmolested. The prophet calls it "a road impossible to get lost on."
I hear this as amazing news because I have no natural sense of direction; a trait that I suspect drives my dad nuts. He can always tell where north is; in fact, he usually needs to know when he is in a new place. I just don't care. I am usually perfectly happy wandering around until I come to something that I recognize, or stop to figure it out on the map, as long as I'm not running late.
And if I'm running late, I demonstrate a serious lack of patience. I easily get angry with other drivers, myself, my genetics. Patience is a "catch word" for Advent. We heard from the book of James this morning about patience, where the author of James tells the people, to be patient, the time of the Lord is near.
Well, quite honestly, I'm tired of being patient! When will this vision of God's realm come true? When will all of these visions we hear from Isaiah be fulfilled? It is hard to see the pain and injustice in the world, and I'm tired of waiting. I have had the experience, and I'm sure many of you have, of sitting with someone in pain and they only thing I can think of to say is "It'll be better..... someday." It really can be an empty platitude. Sometimes it is hard to believe myself when I say, "No really, trust me--there will be a day when God will reign supreme and peace will prevail. A day when you will be able to find your way to God, and you won't ever get sidetracked by your own assumptions, or other people's false promises." But for now.... we wait.
And I think that we all have a vision for what we wait for--a vision of what we hope for God's realm. Some things are probably pretty universal - food for hungry, rest for the weary, healing for those who are ill in body, mind, or spirit. I suspect that most of us also have our own personal preferences. I know for some, they hope for endless amounts of nature--grass and trees as far as they can see. I think others hope for a giant barcolounger and a good book. I know of others who hope for a place of debate, discussion and learning. A mentor of mine, Dr. Tim Lull wrote a book called My Conversations with Martin Luther, in which Dr. Luther visited with Tim over a period of years. In one of these discussions, Dr. Luther revealed that in heaven he was involved in "remedial Bible study" with Henry VIII and Pope Leo X. If you remember your reformation history, Henry and Leo were contemporaries of Luther and they had quite the contentious relationship.
John the Baptist too had a vision--a vision of what he thought the Messiah would be. We don't know for sure, because we don't have any writings directly from John, but it seems that John was looking for a more military figure. Maybe someone who would overthrow the Romans and kick them out of Jerusalem. We heard in the Gospel this morning that after John was imprisoned, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus asking "are you the one we are looking for?"
Remember that John and Jesus are cousins, and yet John still asks this question. I wonder if it was maybe because they are cousins that he asked. Think of your family. Would you so easily believe this of one of your relatives? At this point, I think that John is tired of waiting. He has been preaching the coming Messiah and now he is in prison. He is looking at his own death. He has run out of time.
John's question may seem impertinent, but maybe it is more practical then anything. After all, he had his own disciples, and maybe he wanted to make sure he was sending them to be with the right guy. So he asks, "Jesus, are you really the one we've been waiting for? We've all grown up with these words from Isaiah ringing in our ears--is this about you?"
Jesus answers, not with a treatise about his theology or a doctrinal statement, but he says, "Tell John what you have seen--the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the blind see, the dead are raised." In other words, "seeing is believing." But for all of the healing and teaching and preaching that he did, Jesus of Nazareth was not the messiah John and many, many Jews were waiting for, and continue to wait for. It may seem strange to us, as Christians, because it is so obvious to us. A rabbi I once met said, "I cannot conceive of a messiah who would die on a cross." And, die on a cross, he did. And still the Realm of God has not come into being.
And so, we wait. We join others in our time and from the past in waiting. And honestly, how good are you at waiting? Yesterday I was in line at the post office. I know, Saturday morning in December--not the best time to be at the post office. As I was waiting in line for the new automatic postage machine, I was observing people in line. There was a woman behind me, shifting her weight and sighing loudly, perhaps hoping that if she annoyed those ahead of her enough we would let her go ahead of us. Next to her was passive-aggressive man, who announced in a louder than conversational voice, "If they had more of these machines, the line would move faster." He obviously was hoping that his comment would reach the postal worker helping people at the machine. As for me, I was playing games on my palm pilot and eavesdropping.
How are you at waiting? John the Baptist was waiting. He came before Jesus, preparing the way. Jesus said that John fulfilled what the prophet Micah announced, "One will come who will prepare the way." Jesus also called John a prophet, and as a rule, prophets are rarely well received. They have an annoying habit of speaking the truth, and truth-tellers rarely fare well. John preached about the messiah, preparing the way for Jesus. Even though John's vision was likely very different from the reality of who Jesus was, he did prepare the way for Jesus to explain how he was different from expectations. For him to say, "No, it isn't about war and insurrection, but about bringing good news to the poor, healing to the ill, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf."
And friends, that is the good news. For we all are, at times, blind, deaf, dumb, or ill. Jesus came to heal us and we continue to come to this community, to the water of baptism and to the bread and the wine of communion to be refreshed, renewed and to be reminded.
Isaiah's vision had a Holy Way--a highway to God. None of us is capable of preparing a smooth, straight highway to God on our own, and the good news is you don't have to. Jesus has already done that. Jesus not only constructed the road, but he has shown us how to walk that highway to God--and I can think of no better summation than from a children's song "They will know we are Christians by our love." Love for ourselves, love for our neighbor, love for God's creation and love for those in need.
Now there was one more person in line the line at the post office that I need to tell you about. The man directly ahead of me. As he neared the head of the line, he kind of came to attention, took his credit card out, being attentive to what the people ahead of him were doing. When he stepped up to the machine he knew what he was doing, and the postal worker at the machine asked him, "Have you used this machine before?" "No," he said, "I was watching the people who were ahead of me." Because of him, I was better prepared when it was my turn, because I watched him.
It is important to remember that none of us walks this Holy Way alone. We all have people who lead us, those who follow us, and those who walk beside us. I imagine you are thinking of family, friends, co-workers. But there are others, sometimes we influence people we would never imagine. Perhaps it is a neighbor, a child in the congregation, someone in line at the post office. And they will know we are Christians by our love.
As you walk God's Holy Way, what kind of traveler are you? What kind of leader, what kind of follower are you? What kind of traveler is God calling you to be?
May the Lord of peace himself, Jesus Christ, give you peace at all times in all ways. Amen.
Copyright © 2004 Katy Grindberg
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